The linguistic scam of Italy’s ‘citizenship income’

The linguistic scam of Italy’s ‘citizenship income’

Roberto Ciccarelli (journalist, writer and member of the Basic Income Italy) has published an article on the proposal of the Italian government’s citizenship income.
In the article Ciccarelli talks about the poverty benefit misleadingly called a “citizenship income”, proposed by M5Star government. “What has been included in the soon-to-be-approved budget law” he says “is nothing but a sham and a deliberate misuse of words”. A real “citizenship income” is not tied to an obligation to work and has nothing to do with the “disciplining and punishment of beneficiaries which prominently feature in this M5S-Lega version of “workfare,” which apes the worst features of the Hartz IV German system”. “This benefit”, Ciccarelli writes, “doesn’t have any of the traits of universality, justice, equitability and unconditionality. It is neither a “universal income” nor a “citizenship income.” It is a workforce reintegration benefit of last resort for the unemployed, temporary workers and the poor, part of the authoritarian turn of the welfare state aimed at the creation of one or more parallel labor markets”. Ciccarelli also recalls that “They are talking about a new category of so-called “citizenship crime,” with up to six years in prison in case of fraud. The benefit will be tied to eight hours of unpaid work per week, to compulsory training. The duration of the benefit is also unclear and uncertain. It was said at first that after the first twelve months, the so-called “income” would gradually diminish to zero”. 

Ciccarelli also writes that “The idea of this “​income”— as repeatedly explained by Pasquale Tridico, an advisor to Di Maio — in just a short time, the person in “absolute poverty” will start buying “Italian products,” will get employed (in a permanent position, Tridico seems to imagine—not in small temporary jobs, as is most likely), and will contribute to the “wealth of the nation.””

The many problems of the M5S proposal, however, should not divert the attention from the political fight that has been waged over the past five years, a confrontation which has naturally intensified during the election campaign ahead of the latest 4th of March elections.

Ciccarelli also speaks about “the Democratic Party fighting against the proposal that has been (grossly misleadingly) called a “universal income.” Disingenuously pretending to believe the dishonest characterization of their own proposal by the Five Stars themselves, Renzi and his followers have spent at least four years attacking the very principle of an income that would be provided to all without asking them to do any work in return”.

What the M5S was actually proposing was not a universal income at all, but a significant extension of the “social inclusion income” (REI), a flagship proposal of the Democratic Party, approved during the 2013-2018 legislature.

Ciccarelli concludes that “A universal income is truly needed—this fact is absolutely clear. This so-called “citizenship income,” and other schemes such as the French “universal working income,” are marred by the tension between giving people the possibility to choose how they live their own life and an authoritarian discourse of penalties and obligations. Welfarism clashes with dirigism: one is not allowed to sit on the couch all day, nor to take any break between unpaid community work and a training course. This project shows clearly the present tendency to demand a lot from those who have little in order to justify granting them a benefit of last resort that will not work towards overcoming poverty, but towards making the regime of full precarious employment a reality.”


More information at:

Roberto Ciccarelli, “The linguistic scam of Italy’s ‘citizenship income’”, Basic Income Network Italia, October 24th 2018

(In Italian)

Roberto Ciccarelli, “La società della piena occupazione precaria: il “reddito” secondo Macron e Di Maio“, il manifesto, September 14th 2018


Reviewed by André Coelho

Disputing Citizenship, a review

John Clarke, Kathleen Coll, Evelina Dagnino and Catherine Neveu, Disputing Citizenship, Policy Press, 2014, viii + 214 pp, hbk, 1 4473 1252 9, £70, pbk, 1 4473 1253 6, £21.99Disputing Citizenship

The authors of this book come from the UK, the USA, Brazil, and France, and in all of these countries they find evidence for their major contention: that there is so much conflict over the keyword ‘citizenship’ because citizenship is a focus for conflict within society – which of course makes conflict over the idea different in each of the four countries. Citizenship therefore has no fixed or ‘proper’ meaning, but instead has a diverse history of complex meanings – click here to learn more about citizenship and immigration laws.

In recent years, the broader definition of what it means to be a citizen of a particular location have changed. For example wealthy investors can now acquire Dominica citizenship by investment real estate. Other locations around the globe also offer similar citizenship by investment strategies and motives.

In their first chapter the authors ‘recentre’ citzenship to the margins of society where people do not experience the full benefits of their or others’ understandings of citizenship.

Citizenship is both exclusionary and aspirational, the object of desire and the product of dispute, as well as a dispute in itself. (p.49)

In the second chapter they ‘decentre’ citizenship by showing how its connection to a variety of social actors decentres it from state governments and bureaucracies. Citizenship therefore becomes less of a legal status and more of a discourse about the relative strengths of different political and social actors. The authors might usefully have mentioned the Scottish independence referendum as a location for conflict over citizenship and – whichever side had won – as a decentring of citizenship from Westminster.

The third chapter shows how diverse the many locations of citizenship discourse are, and how this means that the concept is always under construction and never in any sense fully defined. The UK in particular represents a patchwork of levels at which citizenship is exercised and contested: the UK, its four separate nations, local government, and such institutions as schools: and here we see most clearly the authors’ understanding of citizenship as a social process rather than as a legal status (which for most people living in England it is only in an ambiguous form anyway, because we are the subjects of a monarch and without a legally defined citizenship – except for immigrants who have passed the citizenship test and attended a town hall ceremony and are therefore in some ways more ‘citizens’ than the rest of us).

Given the authors’ agenda it is no surprise that the book is ‘undisciplined’, by which the authors mean that it does not fit neatly into such disciplines as political economy, but instead wanders across disciplinary boundaries in order to understand the conflicts around citizenship and the context-specific nature of understandings of it. Where the authors do find coherent theories of citizenship (for instance, Marshall’s), they show that such theories are as context-specific as the conflicts around citizenship.

This book is seriously interesting to those of us committed to debate on the desirability and feasibility of a Citizen’s Income – whether or not we call an unconditional and nonwithdrawable income for every individual a Citizen’s Income or a Basic Income – because a nation state’s definition of citizenship will influence who in that state’s territory (and outside it) will receive a Citizen’s Income, and the granting of a Citizen’s Income will affect that nation’s understanding of citizenship. Means-tested and contributory benefits systems fragment the population of a country. A Citizen’s Income would go to every legal resident (and perhaps in some cases to people living abroad), so citizenship at every societal level would inevitably become more inclusive.

The ways in which benefits systems are determined by a country’s diverse understandings of citizenship, and the ways in which a benefits system in turn contributes to understandings of citizenship, would be a fascinating future project for the authors of this book.

[This review was first published in the Citizen’s Income Newsletter, 2015, issue 3.]

American Political Science Association, “Democratic Imperatives: Innovations in Rights, Participation, and Economic Citizenship”

This task force report on democracy, economic security, and social justice in a volatile world considers three promising democratic innovations, among which is the formulation of economic citizenship. Among the suggested routes to achieve economic citizenship was the implementation of a universal basic income scheme.

American Political Science Association, “Democratic Imperatives: Innovations in Rights, Participation, and Economic Citizenship: Report of the Task Force on Democracy, Economic Security, and Social Justice in a Volatile World”, April 2012.


EDITORIAL: A Popular Legislative Initiative for a Guaranteed Citizenship Income in Spain

A Popular Legislative Initiative (PLI) for a Guaranteed Citizenship Income (GCI), already being presented to the network of notaries, and once to the Catalan Parliament, will start to collect signatures for the next 4 months.

Syndicalist and collective entities giving their support to the PLI will have to make an important effort in order to get at least 50,000 signatures.

The reasons of such an Initiative:

This PLI is the fruit of many months of preparation work, to be able to answer to the important crisis situation of the Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA). Its value is only 412 euros (far under the poverty threshold) that was brought under the Mas government, on summer 2011. It allows a right be subjective and comes to be linked to the budget’s disposition. It did not actualize, depending on Consumer Price Index (CPI), is unable to exceed International Money System (IMS) and was fixed to a maximum period of 5 years to perceive it. It puts aside people with “only” unemployment matters and not showing added social difficulties, having to live at the same place for 1 or 2 years to get it. Finally, the JSA was totally mutilated by Convergence And Union’s (CiU) government from right, and despite protestations from social organisms, the social services, syndicates and other agencies were integrated in the fiscal and financial measures Law approved on the 14th of March 2011 parliamentary session.

Consequences of such a measure:

Far from improving unemployment, poverty, and social exclusion situation of this summer 2011, the poverty rate was estimated at about 25% of the population. Nearly 32% of Catalans’ families have difficulty making ends meet. Tens of thousands persons don’t have means to live. The number of persons living in the streets, under bridges, or close to cash machines increased by 32%, and the median age of homeless people dead in the street last summer was 58 years old.

Effects researched by this Initiative:

These are reasons why the PLI for a GCI is very important in this period. Red Renta Basica [the Spanish Basic Income Network) has been present since the beginning in its elaboration. Without setting any Universal Basic Income, as defended by our association, we believe this PLI is necessary in those moments of important economic depression. The proposition considerably improves the JSA that Catalan’s government has left aside. The GCI is clearly higher than existing JSA in the different Autonomous Communities, first by its ability to get back a subjective right, second by its non-arbitrariness since it is an income with for value the level of a sufficiency income in Catalonia (about 600 euros), and finally by the fact it is given during the whole time while the recipient lacks income.

(translated by Florian Martinon)